Business leaders band together to solve Westworld of Scottsdale power line predicament

An overview of WestWorld Scottsdale, 16601 N. Pima Road, that articulates the wide open spaces at the tourism event hub. (Photo courtesy of the city of Scottsdale)

A new taxing district is likely to emerge within Scottsdale city limits as business owners band together to help shoulder the costs of burying power lines in and around WestWorld of Scottsdale.

Arizona Public Service announced about two years ago it was examining a route for a new 69-kilovolt electrical power line to ensure deliverability of electricity to the growing need of central Scottsdale.

The study area raised the eyebrows of tourism aficionados, real estate developers and local property owners who feared power lines running with the skyline of WestWorld of Scottsdale — a taxpayer-subsidized event center — could tarnish the luster of the event hub while bringing down adjacent property values.

The Scottsdale project area — extending from Bell Road south to the northern side of WestWorld, and east of Loop 101 to what are approximately the power line corridors to the east and the south — is now served by two substations.

APS contends a power outage would overwhelm the existing infrastructure and ultimately cause it to fail. The new power line will cure the potential overload problem by creating a redundant electrical supply, according to Brad Larsen, APS senior siting consultant.

The ultimate goal is to connect the Raintree Substation at 90th Street to its East End Substation just north of Bell Road at the 91st Street alignment, Mr. Larsen says.

The problem: the lines would be elevated and visible, which some fear could be detrimental to surrounding property values.

“We started working on this about a year ago when we saw where they wanted to run the line,” said Scottsdale real estate developer Jim Riggs in a March 6 phone interview. “That was their final twist and that is what they were going to do. I think everyone would agree, including (APS), having these lines run through there that it would depreciate the view and the values of properties in that area.”

Mr. Riggs says from that point forward local proprietors began to meet and cultivate ideas on how a portion of the proposed power line route — poles that would ascend 65 feet in the air about 400 to 500 feet apart for a 2.5- to 3-mile area — could be put underground.

The group of business owners began communication with Scottsdale officials to better understand options, which were few and far between, he says.

“They were helping us form a perspective of creating a district but they could not get support for that internally,” he said of the idea of the city paying the approximately $3.2 million needed to bury the lines.

“Our goal was to provide transparent information so these business owners could better understand what was happening. This is a hard issue to get your head around, it is very complex.”

On Thursday, March 2 an all-mail election hosted by the city of Scottsdale shows local business owners are willing to contribute $3.2 million over a 15-year period to bury underground the power lines in and around Westworld of Scottsdale.

Business Leaders came together over concerns the skyscape atop WestWorld of Scottsdale would be tarnished with power lines. (Photo courtesy of the city of Scottsdale)

A new taxing district

Scottsdale Public Works Director Daniel Worth says the municipality has very little say in where public utilities draw power line routes on maps.

“State statute gives the city the responsibility to do the formation of the district and there is a very detailed process that we have to go through,” he said.

What that process generally entails is the definition of the taxing district boundaries, a ratifying vote of property owners within the new jurisdiction and the agreement to levy taxes from those property owners.

“The city runs the election of the property owners and the city council has to verify the results of the election and approve the levy for the cost,” he said. “It will be divided up by the size of the property that everyone owns.”

According to Mr. Worth, of the 213 possible votes 113 votes were in support of the proposed tax levy to generate about $3.2 million for the undergrounding costs over a 15-year period.

Mr. Worth says on March 21 Scottsdale City Council will be presented with two measures: one to approve the next taxing district and assessment, and a working contract with APS to bury the power lines in question.

“Both measures that were needed passed by a considerable margin,” Mr. Worth said of the coming resolution. “We are also going to present to them a resolution to authorize the assessment and a contract between the city and APS to build the project.”

Mr. Larsen says the project is meant to provide more reliable service to the growing central Scottsdale corridor.

“This was about a two-year process,” Mr. Larsen said in a March 7 phone interview. “The intent was we needed to tie those substations together. This is to make sure we can provide quality and reliable serve as that area continues to grow. What this does is it ties them together and loops the system and gives us some redundancies.”

Mr. Larsen describes the process to create a new taxing district in Scottsdale as largely amicable between all parties involved.

“I don’t think it has ever been a confrontation, just trying to find a way to find a funding mechanism that works,” he said. “We are open to putting the power lines underground.”

A win for everybody

Ensconced through state law, Mr. Riggs points out APS officials have all the authority — a typical caveat of a public utility — to build power lines within designated areas.

“This is a huge win-win for everybody,” he pointed out. “APS was acting as a good corporate citizen — they did not take a strong-arm approach with us. They wanted to help.”

Irene Clary, principal of Catclar Investments, echoes that sentiment of collaboration.

“That’s what I say, ‘God bless the city of Scottsdale,’ they are great to work with,” she said in a March 7 phone interview. “We got together and formalized a plan so that we could undergound them.”

The portfolio of Catclar Investments includes locally the The Rosedale Residences, Soho Scottsdale and 421 W. 6th St., all of which are multi-family housing projects.

“When you are coming off of Pima and down Bahia that is a main thoroughfare,” Ms. Clary said. “To have those power lines above ground just didn’t make any sense. It has taken a long time and we are now seeing the success.”

Ms. Clary acknowledges the cost to bury power lines is high, but the cost of a future loss of power could far surpass the $3.2 million price tag to put the lines underground.

“Regardless for my office or my project, undergrounding those power lines is very critical — especially in this day and age,” she pointed out.

“We want to make sure that we are doing things that improve the city of Scottsdale; those power lines would not be aesthetically appeasing.”

Another angle of the area that WestWorld of Scottsdale encompasses in central Scottsdale. (Photo courtesy of the city of Scottsdale)

Northeast Valley Managing Editor Terrance Thornton can be contacted at tthornton@newszap.com

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